BATON ROUGE, La. – An Afghan War veteran recently elected to Congress has received widespread publicity for his pledge to add new mosques and civil affairs projects to his district.
Adrian O'Connor (R) from southern Louisiana is one of the several dozen candidates newly-elected to Congress earlier this month. A former Major from the Army's 25th Infantry Division, he is also one of 22 veterans from Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom who will be seated in the upcoming 114th Congress.
However, unlike his peers, O'Connor brought all his deployment expertise home to the campaign trail.
"Counterinsurgency is basically just running for office while getting shot at, so it's kind of like representing the south side of Chicago," O'Connor joked as Duffel Blog spoke with him at his campaign headquarters, a heavily-fortified compound overlooking a strategic bridge and highway near Baton Rouge. Giant "O'Connor for Congress" signs still adorned the various crew-served weapons that provided overlapping fields of fire on all possible entrances.
Although O'Connor was originally considered a long-shot candidate, he got an early breakthrough when he secured the support of former regime elements and local elders in the State Republican Party.
His political platform, which he admits was basically cribbed from Field Manual 3-24, promised a new mosque on every street. The rest of it came from a series of town halls O'Connor held with his constituents, or "shurahs with the local nationals" as he calls them, which focused on improving security and gaining access to civil affairs projects.
His vow to employ all "military-age males" on construction projects or in local security forces made him a household name and the overnight front-runner.
With a campaign staff of about 180 dedicated operatives broken down into "platoons" and "squads," O'Connor then hit the streets day and night, sometimes personally knocking on — and down — doors at 3 a.m.
Now-famous campaign footage shows him conducting one of these "hard knocks" with a squad of campaign volunteers and local security forces from the Louisiana State Police. After knocking several times on one house, the point man kicks the door down and the squad rushes in to surprise a family at breakfast. Forcibly segregating the men from the women and children, and then conducting a thorough search of the premises, O'Connor hands them some campaign literature and exits through a brand-new door his volunteers made in what used to be the bathroom.
His Democratic opponent, Matthew Decamp, criticized O'Connor's campaign for what he called a lack of focus, saying that one week it was to eradicate drugs, another week it changed to building schools, and yet a third week it switched to training local police forces. O'Connor disagreed, and said the focus of his campaign was always trust.
"When you're dealing with a tribal culture like out here, you're going to find people are just naturally suspicious of things like improved literacy or women's rights," O'Connor said. "But once you tell just them that it'll ultimately improve both their district's development and security they get right on board."
Although O'Connor's campaign had to hastily backtrack after an attempt to confiscate or register all privately-owned weapons in the area led to the roadside bombing of one of his campaign's trucks, the rest of the election was, as he put it, "a textbook operation."
After Decamp called to concede on election night, O'Connor held a formal reconciliation ceremony with him, then promised several road contracts to Decamp and his campaign staff.
"The key to a lasting victory is to find a way to keep our former opponents employed — whether it's digging ditches or paving roads — or we're just kicking the problem to the next election," O'Connor said.